The Scholar (Emerson Pass Historicals 3) - Page 15

commonality in all families, whether rich or poor.

“Why are you headed out to see Mama?” Cymbeline asked.

“Do you really want to know?”

“I don’t ask questions I don’t want the answer to.” She glanced over at me with a grin on her face. “I’m too nosy, but I can’t stop myself.”

I told her what had happened, closing the sad story with my conclusion that I needed a job.

She tugged off her hat and tossed it into the back seat. Her hair was in a braid. Brown curls had escaped and bounced with the movement of the car. “Oh dear, this is quite the conundrum. As far as my mother goes, I’m not sure she’ll have anything for you.”

I sighed as the pit in my stomach returned. “Are you all full then?”

“It’s not that. There’s no way Mama or my father will hire you. They see you as a family friend, not someone they would employ.”

I turned away to look at the landscape and tried not to cry.

“Don’t look like that,” Cymbeline said as we veered right into their driveway. “You’re right to ask them for help. They’re not going to let you and your parents go without a home. Not when we have enough room for you.”

I didn’t say anything, but I felt certain my father would be reticent to accept that kind of help.

We came through a thicket of aspens to the Barneses’ large house. Besides the brick-and-wood house, there was a red barn and carriage house. Horses grazed in the green meadow and chickens pecked the dirt. Flowers bloomed all around the house in attractive clumps. A twitch of envy came to me. What would it be like to live here and have the freedom Cymbeline had? Money was freedom, I thought.

“I’ll drop you at the front here before I park the car,” Cymbeline said. “Jasper will answer the door, so go on in without me.”

I thanked her for the ride and hopped to the ground. I’d been here many times for parties and had always enjoyed myself. However, this was different. I needed something and would have to be brave enough to ask.

As promised, Jasper appeared before I even had the chance to use the knocker. “Miss Lind, how nice to see you.”

I admired his clipped British accent, which made him sound smart and elegant. “Good morning, Jasper. I’m sorry to call unannounced, but I wondered if Mrs. Barnes was available?”

“Come in. I’ll let her know you’re here.”

I thanked him and stepped inside the Barneses’ foyer, where dark wood gleamed under the lights. A maid I didn’t recognize came up from the basement and nodded at me before scurrying up the stairs to the second floor. I steadied myself with a deep breath, remembering the first time I’d ever set foot in this home. I’d been scared and ashamed of the dirty rags that passed as clothes and the gnawing hunger in my belly. Mrs. Barnes had been Miss Cooper back then, before she married Lord Barnes. When she’d come to Emerson Pass to become the town’s first teacher, she’d been poor too. Like me, yet not like me. Her father had died, leaving her to look after her mother and sister; my mother had died, leaving me alone with Pa. I shuddered. Put him out of your mind, I instructed myself. He has no place here. I was here to take care of the people who had taken care of me. Pride and fear could not rule.

I looked up at the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. “Louisa, how nice to see you.” Fiona Barnes glided down the stairs in a pink summer dress. Her brown hair was pinned demurely at the back of her neck. “Is the pastor all right? Your mother?”

“Yes, everyone’s fine. As of now anyway.”

Fiona stopped in front of me and took my hands. “Dear me. I can see something’s wrong. What’s happened?”

I bit the inside of my mouth to keep from crying. Although she was only seventeen, Fiona had the essence of someone much older. Her strong hands squeezed mine before letting them go. No one would know from looking at them how they could fly across piano keys to make the most extraordinary music. Her tenderhearted eyes were fixed upon me. “Whatever it is, we can help. I’m sure of it.”

“The church board fired Father. We have to leave our home.”

“What? No, no, that’s not right.”

A girl in Fiona’s enviable position might not believe how badly adults could act, especially when it came to money or power. I, however, knew exactly.

“I’ve come to talk to your mother about it,” I said. “Hoping she might have an idea of what to do.”

“If anyone can, it’s Mama.”

Quinn appeared in the foyer. As always, she was tidy and perfectly turned out in a cream-colored dress. Her doe-like gaze fixed on me. She seemed to immediately know something was wrong. “Louisa, what’s happened?”

“I need to talk to you about something.” My voice shook slightly. Was it a mistake to have come? Father would not like it, airing our troubles to the Barneses. I was here. It was too late to turn back now. I would have to go through with it.

“Come into the library. Lizzie just sent up a fresh pot of tea. You can tell us all about it.”

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